Interactive Web Portals Offer Opportunities to Improve Participant Outcomes

interactive web portals

Interactive Web Portals Offer Opportunities to Improve Participant Outcomes. Online retirement plan participant portals are evolving. Where once they showed only account balances and investment options, now they are more interactive and oriented toward helping participants reach their retirement goals.

An article from financial editorial and marketing solutions provider WealthManagement.com points out some new trends in portal design, which include retirement-income planning analysis tools and participant-specific advice to help improve outcomes. Page and site designs are also changing, along with the overall user experience. Author Ed McCarthy notes the evolution in design is influenced by behavioral finance research and observations from participant interactions with online portals.

The behavioral finance connection is interesting. McCarthy doesn’t directly make the correlation, but we know that in the past decade or so, behavioral finance research has been a key driver of plan design features such as automatic enrollment and auto contribution escalation. As such, it makes sense that it is now also informing the design of online participant portals.

McCarthy cites two examples of portals from Fidelity and Vanguard. While their interfaces look quite different, the idea is basically the same: show participants where they’re at, what they need to achieve, and what choices they can make to get there. On both sites, the end goal is to drive participants to make a decision that will help move them in a positive direction to improve their retirement outcomes.

Vanguard’s portal home page even “nudges” participants to take the next most logical step, i.e., increasing their savings rate to get the company match, or opting in for annual automatic contribution increases. As we’ve written before, these small nudges can be quite impactful, especially when it comes to improving savings behaviors.

Fidelity and Vanguard both report healthy usage of their participant portals, too. Fidelity plan pages are accessed by 4 million unique users, with 70% of those coming from desktop computers and the other 30% from mobile devices (smartphones and tablets). Through June 2017, more than half of Vanguard’s 4.4 million DC plan participants logged into the web portal, with 35% coming from mobile.

The next challenge for portal design is meeting participants where they are, digitally speaking, and presenting information to fit the way they consume it. More and more people are accessing information from devices beyond tablets and smartphones, such as in-home voice-activated devices (i.e., Amazon Echo) and wearable devices. Fidelity and Vanguard are already thinking about how to crack that “digital nut.”

In any case, the evolution of online participant portals presents an opportunity for plan sponsors. With a richer, interactive environment comes the potential for more meaningful, precise messaging that can be customized for specific participants’ situations. It’s definitely worth talking to your provider to find out if they offer an interactive online participant portal, and if so, how you can leverage it to make a bigger impact on your plan communications

Robyn Kurdek

Robyn Kurdek

Freelance writer with nearly 2 decades of financial industry experience, with niche expertise in the defined contribution (DC) industry. I also have defined benefit (DB) plan knowledge. I write all types of content for retirement plan participants, sponsors and advisors, including web copy, newsletters, white papers, fact sheets, blog posts, financial wellness articles, and more. "I speak DC."
Robyn Kurdek
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